LANDSTUHL, Germany - First Lt. Timothy Johnson joined the U.S. Army last year after finishing his degree in environmental engineering and working in the civilian sector as an analytical chemist for a few years, overseeing the production and quality control of organic product lines.
Johnson was interested in environmental health and protection from an early age.
“As a kid, I was fascinated at the bright orange rivers we have in central Pennsylvania,” explained Johnson who grew up in Morrisdale, Penn. “A lot of area was heavily impacted by strip mining. Tons of streams are bright orange because of all the pollution and acid from these abandoned mines.”
Based on the unusual looking streams in his home state, Johnson started to become passionate about protecting the environment, and how it affects his and other people’s lives.
“Going into college I knew I wanted to do something related to it [environmental health],” Johnson said. “I got my undergrad in environmental chemistry and went from there.
Johnson visited a job fair to see what other career options he had in that field when he started talking to an U.S. Army recruiter and decided to join the military.
“I had a good career as a civilian but I wanted to do more,” Johnson said. “I have had an excellent life and have been given great opportunities, so I wanted to give back to my country.
Johnson was commissioned as an environmental science and engineering officer and is currently assigned to the environmental health engineering section of Public Health Command Europe in Landstuhl, Germany.
A key part of the Public Health Command Europe mission is to conduct sanitary audits and water quality testing on garrison installations to identify and assess current and emerging environmental health threats and compliance support.
“We go to all garrisons across Europe and do the monitoring and testing of the water to make sure it is safe and meets host nation and US water quality standards to mitigate preventable diseases,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson he enjoys the challenge working with garrisons in different host countries brings.
“It is important to balance the host nation’s rules and regulations with the rules and regulations from the U.S. to make sure that the water meets the standard that we want to have for drinking water,” said Johnson. “In this aspect, my work in the military offers a lot more variety than my civilian job did.”
Johnson says water safety can have a big impact on the mission and Soldier readiness.
“Environmental health sciences in the Army is similar to the civilian world, but here, we have the challenge of directly affecting Soldier readiness,” Johnson said. “If a Soldier gets sick or if there is a waterborne sickness outbreak, it can bring down a whole team, unit or even a critical mission.”
Studies show, before war in the twentieth century, disease was the number one killer of combatants. About two-thirds of the 620,000 recorded military deaths in the Civil War were caused by disease.
“In the past, most Soldiers didn’t die from bullets, but from diseases behind the front lines,” Johnson explained. “Disorders of the digestive system, as well as other ailments were caused by poor hygiene, poor sanitation, and a lack of understanding. A doctor treats diseases, while my job is to prevent the disease from occurring in the first place.”
In the past year, Johnson has been part of water inspections and sanitary audits in Belgium and Germany and will travel to garrisons in Italy in the upcoming months to ensure water safety and enhance Soldier readiness.
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